The Star

Dang! but I'm glad neither you nor I are as smart as all those Big City KnowItAlls. I re-read Thomas Kuhn last year, and realized how incomplete all our vaunted science really is: Our science was eternal and as deeply ground in truth as... well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

Where do these journalists, who barely passed freshman bio and bonehead stats, get off preaching Revealed Scientific Wisdom to us in the cheap seats? Hasn't it ever occurred to them that some of their classmates--cum laude grads in the sciences--aren't journalists, and know just how ignorant and patronizing their articles are?

As I wrote in a blog about a much more trivial matter: "...if I had just downed a pitcher of beer, and met an AP reporter who was on fire, I'd excuse myself and go to the men's room."

Posted by Mike Anderson at December 18, 2006 9:50 PM

Holy Moly, I wish I could write like this... Amazing!

Posted by dave at December 19, 2006 5:47 PM

That was a nice essay, Gerard.

Incidentally, a few years ago I read a book review in Sky & Telescope magazine. For centuries astronomers have tried to find an astronomical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, but none of the hypotheses have been satisfactory. The book's author tried to consider what Middle Eastern astrologers 2000 years ago would have considered important. His hypothesis, therefore, is that the "star" was not an actual apparition in the sky but rather a horoscope predicting the birth of a great king. He even gives a date: April 17, 6 B.C.

Here is a link to Sky & Telescope's page featuring an excerpt of the article. Unfortunately there is a fee for the whole thing.

http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/skyandtelescope/access/886331061.html?dids=886331061:886331061&FMT=CITE&FMTS=CITE:PAGE&date=Dec+1999&author=Bradley+E+Schaefer&desc=The+Star+of+Bethlehem%3A+The+Legacy+of+the+Magi%2C+by+Michael+R.+Molnar

Here is the info about the book (I tried to link it on Amazon.com but Amazon.com hates Safari for some reason):

The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi by Michael R. Molnar (Rutgers University Press, 1999). 208 pages. ISBN 0-8135-2701-5.

Posted by rickl at December 19, 2006 6:39 PM

Ah, yes. This is why you're in my links. Well done, sir.

Posted by B. Durbin at December 19, 2006 8:01 PM

To expand on my earlier comment: I'll have to type this by hand because no alternative exists, and because this is too important to let drop. The following is from the Sky & Telescope review, by Bradley E. Schaefer (I have not read the book):

"The first two advances are merely correcting a typical error made in historical studies. Evaluating old societies by modern standards and assigning motivations to historical events in accordance with current principles is an easy trap to fall into. It is now blindingly obvious–in retrospect–that a fundamental error has been made and how to correct it.

Molnar's third advance is to identify a unique date for which the regal portents were the highest possible and indicated a birth in Judea. On April 17, 6 B.C., the planets aligned in the most auspicious configuration imaginable. Such a powerful horoscope could have driven the wise men to seek out the divine king. This date happens to be near the middle of the time span (roughly 10 to 4 B.C.) in which historians have placed the birth of Christ.

What is so magical about the horoscope? In astrological terms, the Sun was exalted (made most powerful) in Aries, the beneficent Venus was also exalted, the three rulers of the Aries trine were all in Aries, both the Sun and the Moon had their planetary attendants nearby, Jupiter was at its heliacal rise position in Aries, and the Moon occulted Jupiter that day. Wow, this would have blown the turban off any astrologer. And the primacy of Aries would have pointed directly at Judea."

...

"Let me summarize the implications of the new paradigm in my own words: First, don't but any other book on the Star of Bethlehem, because the old astronomical views are guaranteed to be irrelevant. Second, the new astrological paradigm forces the realization that astrology was an important force in historical times so that the disregard of the topic by most historians is blatant chauvinism. Third, the existence of a stunning astrological horoscope for April 17, 6 B.C., announcing the birth of a great king in Judea will now force scholars of religion to reconcile the event with their own beliefs."

Posted by rickl at December 19, 2006 10:10 PM

One problem with the "Star as an astronomical event" hypothesis is that (1) the sky turns, so that what is in the East at dawn is in the West at twilight, and (2) a star in the East from Cairo leads you to an entirely different place than a star in the East from Ephesus.

Posted by ZZMike at January 4, 2007 10:14 AM

"The light of the body is the eye. If, therefore, thine eye be single,thine whole body will be full of Light."

Posted by FamouslyUnknown at December 22, 2007 1:18 PM

With all our power and our arrogance; with the capability to make species extinct, destroy forests and poison the sea; with the fire that burns in the hearts of stars at our command - still, despite all that, we are sometimes reminded of our smallness.

One moment for me was close to thirty years ago, yet I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I was a student in the days when the music variously known as pomp rock and heavy metal was popular. If I remember correctly, it was something by Led Zeppelin, at the last college party I ever went to. Slightly after the beginning of the piece (they went in for entire-side-of-LP pieces) something was added to the bass line. A lightning storm, several miles away. Quite a big one. Heavy metal on big speakers with Thor on drums - quite impressive, as was the light show.

Posted by Fletcher Christian at December 24, 2007 5:45 AM

Peace, Hope & Light . . .

- The Light Within . . .

Posted by gabrielpicasso at December 24, 2007 8:30 AM

Global Warming is a science. Hmmm.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Dennis at December 12, 2008 5:48 AM

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol--Bonhoeffer

Posted by at December 12, 2008 7:21 AM

Wow, Gerard. Just wow.

Posted by jay-dubya at December 12, 2008 7:56 AM

How beautifully said...Merry Christmas to you.

Posted by Holly at December 12, 2008 8:08 AM

How beautifully said...Merry Christmas to you.

Posted by Holly at December 12, 2008 8:09 AM

Brilliant! I suppose that if I just read this from my pulpit this Sunday, I'll have to give you credit. But of course, I'd rather the people think I could think and write this well.

Posted by Donald Sensing at December 12, 2008 1:03 PM

No need for credit. When it comes to essays like this one I don't so much write them as "record" them.

They arrive pretty much in completed form.

Posted by vanderleun at December 12, 2008 1:44 PM

Read every paragraph twice, paused and pondered the truth and beauty of your words. I pause now and still I contemplate some more. I have never and probably could never think of these things on my own. You are special. Thank you Sir, and may the Lord's blessings continue to be bestowed on you.

Posted by julio figueroa at December 12, 2008 4:06 PM

Read every paragraph twice, paused and pondered the truth and beauty of your words. I pause now and still I contemplate some more. I have never and probably could never think of these things on my own. You are special. Thank you Sir, and may the Lord's blessings continue to be bestowed on you.

Posted by julio figueroa at December 12, 2008 4:06 PM

At least 1000 thanks to you for this; you knocked another one way out of the park.

Posted by Susan at December 12, 2008 5:24 PM

"They arrive pretty much in completed form."

Lucky man. All my mental inbox gets is junk mail.
This was a most beautiful piece. This was a work of genuine inspiration. Your essay moved me. Thank you.

JWM

Posted by jwm at December 12, 2008 8:32 PM

Gerard,

When I graduated San Diego, CA's James Madison Sr. High School in 1976, I did so after testing as perhaps, maybe the fastest reader with the highest comprehension recorded there, then to date.

And yes, I used to be one to devour a book or two per day. Back in '98, after a major motorcycle mishap, I recall reading Clancy's 1,400+ pg opus "Executive Orders", in a single eightteen hour sitting, interrupted only by the intake and outflow of foods and fluids.

I'm older now. Wiser, and of weaker eyesight. And, I've tried my hand at writing. Well, okay, blogging. But, still.

Point is, I can't read something like what you've written here now, at the speed of scan. I. Just. Can. Not!

Now that I've leard to write a lick or two, I cannot tread so lightly upon another writer's words. And the more meaty the prose, the slower the meal.

You, Whittle, Velociman. A select few others; repasts for the soul.

Who can then hurry such a feast? Not I.

Frankly, I'm humbled to even have the honor of merely commenting after such a masterwork.

You and one other I forgot to mention, draw me closer to God.

Be sure to include Steve, of Hog on Ice (dot com) in your prayers, and on your blogroll.


Jim
Sloop New Dawn*
Galveston, TX

*destroyed by Ike

Posted by Jim at December 12, 2008 9:10 PM

"Point is, I can't read something like what you've written here now, at the speed of scan. I. Just. Can. Not!"

No shame in slowly savoring another one of Gerard's brilliantly-written pieces. I do it all the time. As was once said in another context by a wise rabbi, "when I pray, I pray quickly, because I am talking to God. But when I read, I read slowly, because God is talking to me".

Regarding the point of the article, today's "wise men" have data aplenty, but little faith, it seems, in anything beyond their ability to collect more data. But they never touch first principles. Prepared for miracles? Not hardly.

I have no problem with science and technology. They have given us a standard of living never before seen in the world. But even I, a longtime skeptic, realize there's something else "out there", and never more than at this time of year. Thanks again, Gerard, for the thought--and wonder--provoking piece.

Posted by waltj at December 13, 2008 6:06 AM

I've been so busy - I almost skipped this.

Lassoed again.

Gratefully.

Posted by Cathy at December 13, 2008 12:45 PM

Re my comments from two years ago: I found Michael Molnar's web page: http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/

Read the whole thing. I really think he's onto something.

Jim: Sorry to hear about your boat. I recognize your signature from various blogs.

Posted by rickl at December 14, 2008 2:06 AM

In response to the quotation by Bonhoeffer: Before Bonhoeffer, Christians taught that you can prove that God exists...from creation! Everyone from St. Paul (in Romans) to Augustine to Anselm to Thomas Aquinas. There is quite a long and beautiful tradition in Christianity of how God can be found in the book of creation as well as in the book of revelation! Even today many scientists, especially physicists, have come to the faith through discovering God's existence through studying his creation. Merry Christmas!

Posted by Kristin at December 15, 2008 8:16 AM

Nice story and all, but it misses the mark, at least for me. I am a scientist - a non-believer. But I hold dear the tenets of my Judeo-Christian/European/American heritage. The teachings of the bible, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution - are all a contimuum that holds the keys to our moral and cultural survival. The miracle to me is that our ancestors created these and other transcendent documents to guide us, while living in a world ruled largely by ignorance and barbarism. You may call it divine - I call it inspiring. The answer is simple, if they could create these guides to the moral side of our culture, then we can at least study and learn the lessons. We should not need myth or mysticism to "trick" us into morality. The path has been layed out for us, we just need to follow it. The scoffing doubters need to understand that our deepest wisdom did come from people who believed in spirits and astrology. We don't need to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" by rejecting the messages just because we doubt the stories that are the vehicles of those messages.

Posted by Tom Ferrero at December 15, 2008 8:58 AM

Do we know everything? No. Is it possible to know everything? Again, no. Science isn't even a way of knowing. It is far more accurate to say that science and the scientific method is the best way we have to learn just how ignorant we are. And, in addition, to devise better guesses at how things are. But in the long run science is wrong. Wrong because we can't know absolutely how things are.

We take a story and credit it to God, not realizing that that story has so many flaws and plot holes it wouldn't pass muster at the Sci-Fi Channel. Mythologizing a Jewish sect did not need to grow into a religion of its own. Gathered in with other myths that made the nascent faith accessible, but at the same time changed it in ways that weakened and warped the message of the founder.

Should we then not celebrate Christmas? On the contrary. We have long celebrated the shortest day of the year, for it means the days will now lengthen again. Again it will be time for planting, time for birthing, time for courting and the making of vows of marriage. Christmas and like festivals of the Winter Solstice are celebrations of the promise that the world will not be caught in unending gloom and ice, not be trapped in despair unyielding.

It is said that the early Church fathers decided to celebrate Christ's birth at the time of the Roman Saturnalia in order to co-opt it and so turn Roman citizens to the new faith. But even if the Saturnalia had not existed the Winter Solstice best fit what Christ's birth represents.

It represents redemption. Christ, the Christ of the Christian religion has to be born in the depths of Winter. Born at a time when the light is weakest, and Man at his lowest ebb. For He bears the hopes of Mankind, the prayers and aspirations of Humanity. He shall take those dreams on his trek to Calvary, as well as the sins of the world, and at the place known as Golgotha he shall pay the final price and in the doing redeem Man. The final act of this season long comedy being when He returns hope to the world with his resurrection.

Where He was born or when is not important. What really happened to him when he was crucified during the Passover is not important. For He is a creature of myth, and myth speaks to us and ourselves in ways facts cannot.

The Christ of the Church is the Fisher King. Born at the birth of Winter, the water time, to suffer and die at the death of Winter. Thirteen Weeks, three months. Fisher King, Winter King. A brief light, giving way to new hope, new promises. This He does each year in a constant re-enactment of an ancient event that over the centuries has gained more and more importance in our lives.

We don't really need to know if the Star of Bethlehem really existed. It is not a physical star, but a symbolic one. It's light is not a physical guide to Christ's birthplace, but a spiritual guide to the occasion of a miracle that means a harsh and bloody death for an innocent man that we may be free of our guilt. It is the light of Christ's resurrection shining into the past, that Man shall know that His redeemer is here.

Posted by Alan Kellogg at December 15, 2008 3:53 PM

I love the bit where "we worship a database".
It gives me an idea for a story, really... "The Church of the Holy Genome".
Entirely well written. Thank you.

Warren
Toronto Canada

Posted by Warren at December 16, 2008 5:45 AM

This reminded me of a Thomas Hardy poem. The last line always gets me--such a simple statement of modern man's separation from ancient faith and custom:

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.


Posted by AK at December 16, 2008 12:02 PM

Un paquita fe. Con muchas gracias Gerardo.

Posted by adagny at December 21, 2008 12:17 AM

Thank you for a beautiful essay.

God bless and Merry Christmas.

Posted by southernjames at December 11, 2009 4:30 AM

Wonderful start to the Christmas Festival Gerard and faith-restoring in this increasingly depraved and distorted culture. It reminds of a less articulate but equally heartfelt 'arrival' I experienced a decade or so back when trying to stargaze through the muck that is now our atmosphere (from a UK vantage point, anyway):

Distant Stars and Distant Drums.

Younger eyes perceived the wondrous brilliant light
Of distant stars suspended in the night.
The Universe, the Chandelier of Time;
Heaven adorned in glistening, sparkling rime.

A hologram; a splendid spectral sight;
Myriad beacons, guiding birds in flight:
Each globe a marvel to the virgin eye
Tracing twinkling patterns in the wide night sky.

Unknowing then how unrelenting Time
This precious sense would suffer to decline;
How nothing can restore the dwindling visual power,
As stars become more distant by the hour.

Younger ears once listened to the beat
Of distant drums; of footsteps in the street;
Sounds orchestral; birdsong n the Spring;
The clarity of church bells as they ring.

A symphony of stereophonic sounds;
A sonic range that seemed to have no bounds.
Every note a marvel to the young keen ear,
Harmony or monotone; so sharp and clear.

Unknowing, then, how unrelenting Time
This precious sense would suffer to decline:
How nothing can restore the fading aural power
As drums become more distant by the hour.

May your razor sharp senses never diminish Gerard, and long may you continue to inspire us with your thoughts, illustrations and video-audio snippings.

You have already brightened several of my twilight years, for which, my grateful thanks!

Posted by Frank P at December 11, 2009 4:31 AM

How wonderful that you have a habit of creating traditions with your essays.

We all seem to hang on the arrival of our favorite parts of the Mysterious Season, be it the lights, the sentimental movies, the songs. For me, it is the stories of mystery and miracle. Not just a Birth, but every dawning word of heaven touching earth that brings wonder to my soul.

It pulls me inward that I may look upward and begin my own journey well.

.

Posted by Joan of Argghh! at December 11, 2009 5:14 AM

Well done, Gerard.

Merry Christmas to you. Blessings on your house.

Subsunk

Posted by Subsunk at December 11, 2009 6:11 AM

This is a wonderfully fine thing. How cold and parched I was a mere fifteen minutes ago.

Posted by Mizz E at December 11, 2009 7:17 AM

I just want to say that I'm flattered and grateful for all the kind words here.

Thanks to all.

Posted by vanderleun at December 11, 2009 8:55 AM

Gerard:

Beautiful, just beautiful. And a sheer pleasure to read.

Merry Christmas, and may your days ahead be as brighly lit as the Star that guided the three wise men to Bethlehem. God bless.

Salim

Posted by Salim Mansur at December 11, 2009 12:19 PM

Thanks for a beautiful essay, Gerard. I've said it before, to friends and relatives as I send them links to other essays of yours: I may hear rotten preaching in church lately, but this guy could turn demons in hell towards God again (when not flaying them). God bless, preserve and keep you close to Him this holy season, and always.

Posted by retriever at December 11, 2009 7:25 PM

Beautiful. Merry Christmas, Gerard.

Posted by Obi's Sister at December 12, 2009 10:16 AM

The Star was there for those wise men to follow, not just because of them and because of us, but also because of today's unbelievers. It is quite striking that so many among the intellectuals, the intelligentsia of today, blatantly mock what these men did and why. The Apostle Paul clearly said that not many among the learned or among the rich or powerful are called to testify about the Gospel. The Wise Men were just a prologue to his unfortunately fulfilled prophecy.

It is also striking that so many men who could be called "wise", who lived and gathered at a place ten miles away from Bet-Lehem (ten miles!), were genuinely shocked when some astrologers from the Medo-Persian kingdom announced why they were there and how they had found out. It is even more striking when the one person who took the Magi's words at heart was, in fact, the usurper who sought to kill this Newborn before He ever claimed His throne. It is interesting how evil men are more alert when their goose could be cooked than "wise" men who could have been amazed by the Light of the World... and missed that chance, even though the Blessing was right under their very noses.

When the wisdom of the world makes us miss the Greater Blessing, it is a tragedy. In the end, those who think they are "wise" are not remembered in the whole scheme of Eternity. There were many professors at Oxford and Cambridge at the time of the Inklings, but who do we remember from that time? Lewis. Tolkien. I wonder who among America's scholars, especially the ones from our present time, will be remembered for standing apart and above the others, in a manner reminiscent of the Magi.

That is the reason why I collect representations of the Three Wise Men and display them around my house this season. In fact, Epiphany (Jan 6) is celebrated in Puerto Rico still. I still remember that day, and will teach my little daughters about it.

***

Feliz Navidad, Gerald. Felices Pascuas, if you like the traditional Spanish greeting.

Posted by newton at December 12, 2009 11:35 PM

Add a passenger to that train of best of the best.

We still have time for miracles, and apparently twice the need. There was a miracle in 2008, when the oceans began to recede and the planet began to heal.

Hayek observed that before the cult of Darwin it was understood by the best minds in science that each advance in science--as we should be reminded through Hubble--provided us with knowledge that expanded the understanding of of our range of ignorance, not the other way around.

What the sterile mind lacks is the sense of hesitation and wonder.

Posted by james wilson at December 1, 2010 8:40 AM

It's good to come back and read this again. Like great music (Handel's Messiah comes to mind at this time of year), it doesn't get old.

Science is extremely good for investigating "what" and "how". It is useless for answering "why". For that, we need the wonder and faith of the Magi.

Posted by waltj at December 1, 2010 5:28 PM

The scientists who deny His existance, or cite their muddled obfuscations as proof that we are just happenstance, with no Divine spark, are failing to see the forest for the trees.

For God created Man in his own image. Not similar but lesser, IN HIS OWN IMAGE. To see the Creator, look within ones self. He is within us all.

"As above, so below." "On earth as it is in heaven."
The Book contains "meat for men" as well as "milk for babies". Read between the lines.

That being said, Gerard, thank you once again for letting your inner Light be visible to the rest of us, who are struggling to find enlightenment.

I hope you have a joyous Christmas this year and for many more years to come.
"Let there be Light."

Posted by Roger Drew Williams at December 1, 2010 9:12 PM

Oh I am so grateful that you share. ~D

Posted by DeAnn at December 3, 2011 4:46 PM

I am glad to read that again. I expect that you are too, after the year you've had.

Thank you.

Posted by pfsm at December 3, 2011 7:01 PM

And thusly you earned extra days. Right on.

Posted by Roger Drew Williams at December 3, 2011 7:35 PM

Thank you, Gerard. Like you, I am a late-comer. Here is a gift for you and readers, Evelyn Waugh's prayer of the Magi, the prayer of the late-comer. Merry Christmas. Every day is a gift. Good and increasing health for the New Year. You remain in my prayers.

"‘Like me,’ writes Waugh, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before. Even the cattle, they had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you, the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed, and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars. How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating where the shepherds are run barefoot. How odd you looked on the road attended by what outlandish liveries laden with such preposterous gifts. You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you, and what did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod with a deadly exchange of compliments which there began that unending war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent. Yet, still, you came and were not turned away. You, too, found room before the manger. Your gifts were not exactly needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. You were my special patrons and the patrons of all late comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the obscure truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who, through politeness, make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talent. For him, who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delegate. Let them not quite be forgotten at the throne of God when the end comes to their kingdom.’ ”

Posted by M. P. Ryan at December 4, 2011 4:45 PM

I thought I knew what to say before I read the last comment, and now I see that I don't. [Thanks. Fixed. ]So I will just say this:

Six years has improved the reading of this essay. I think I remember each and every time why I didn't comment after reading it.

I'm in awe.

Merry Christmas, Gerard.

Posted by Jewel at December 13, 2012 6:12 AM

Beautiful...

Posted by Kat in Indiana at December 9, 2013 4:08 AM

"A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol"- -Bonhoeffer (per another commenter)

God is science, myth, revelation or The Infinite. He wants us to understand and search.
All things can be understood, but it will take humans a long time to match wits with God.

Posted by grace at December 9, 2013 10:41 AM

For your Advent reading pleasure, link to a number of well-researched articles by a Harvard-trained Christian lawyer on the Star of Bethlehem, dating Jesus' Birth, and other matters including music.

http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2008/08/evidence-for-accuracy-of-bible.html

The whole blog is worth perusing.

Posted by G. Smith at December 10, 2013 8:00 AM

For your Advent reading pleasure, link to a number of well-researched articles by a Harvard-trained Christian lawyer on the Star of Bethlehem, dating Jesus' Birth, and other matters including music.

http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2008/08/evidence-for-accuracy-of-bible.html

The whole blog is worth perusing.

Posted by G. Smith at December 10, 2013 8:00 AM